Osceola County's W192 Development Authority has entered into a confidentiality agreement with a developer to assist in the planning of a $400 million "lifestyle destination resort" on the tourist corridor.
Executive Director David Buchheit briefed the board Thursday morning on what he's called "Project Edison." The board unanimously agreed to provide up to $75,000 in planning assistance to the developer through its Catalyst Grant program.
The confidential project "will include a purpose-built convention center and entertainment district," Buchheit said. "It will have multiple 4-star hotels with a minimum of 500 rooms, along with 4-star shopping and dining."
Buchheit told GrowthSpotter the convention center and entertainment district would be built for a specific industry, and would include high-tech components that would generate high-wage jobs.
The project would be located within the W192 redevelopment district, somewhere between Vineland Road (CR 535) and Interstate 4. He said the developer has a LOI on the land and has several vendors and partners lined up.
"They're very serious," he said. "The team has been working on this for quite a while. I'm happy that the Development Authority is able to help with the project planning."
The W192 Development Authority will hire GAI Consultants to assist the developer with site planning and determine the best layout. Buchheit said the group specifically requested to work with GAI, and since the firm has a continuing service contract with Osceola County, he can write a task authorization for this project.
"GAI will be working for us," Buchheit said. "We will own the plan."
He said the developer approached him because they were familiar with the work the authority had provided to the owners of the Roomba Inn. Last year, the authority approved a $50,000 catalyst grant to the hotel owners to assist in redeveloping that site, which is next door to Old Town.
Buchheit said the Roomba Inn owner is close to landing at least one, possibly two, flag hotels.
"(The confidential developers) were familiar with the work we did for Roomba, and they saw an opportunity to work with the development authority to frontload the project and work through the process," he said.
He described the developer as extremely well-connected and experienced with a detailed business plan. "I'm excited," he said. "This is the type of project that moves the needle."
Given the size and scope of the project, only a handful of parcels in the district would be large enough to meet the criteria.
The former Orlando Sun Resort, owned by Fortuna Realty in New York, is in a prime location at the northeast quadrant of I-4 and W192. Built in 1974, the sprawling two-story motel sits on 77 acres right across from Celebration.
There's also the 364-acre site just south of the newly planned $1.7 billion Magic Place development. The vacant land is owned by Maharashi Global Development, the same firm that previously owned the Magic Place site.
The third option is Xentury City, an approved DRI on Osceola Parkway and International Drive that still has more than 200 acres of available land in Osceola County with infrastructure in place. Home to the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center, the project already has entitlements for another 4,000 hotel rooms and 400,000 square feet of retail space.
Paul Sexton, vice president with HREC Investment Advisors, said the proximity to the Gaylord Palms makes the Xentury site a strong contender. "Convention-goers like to be near other convention-goers," he told GrowthSpotter on Thursday.
A project of this scale would also likely require ample foreign investment, he said.
The availability of direct flights between Dubai and Orlando has sparked more investment in the area from the Middle East, the Orlando Sentinel reported earlier this year.
Xentury's parent company is a firm called Xenel International. Xenel, based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is a billion-dollar multinational corporation dealing in real estate, oil, gas and other industries.
Plans for a county-funded convention center at Xentury Center fell apart in 2002 over fears that the families had a tangential connection to banks suspected of terrorist ties.
The county ended up building a conference center at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate and is now expanding that facility.
Buchheit said the convention center at "Project Edison" would be tailored to a specific, high-tech industry connected to the entertainment district.
"This wouldn't be generic convention space," he said.